Week 3 Summary

A fairly quiet week for me due to personal obligations, but I was able to attend the Skype chat…  glad I made it since there were some interesting discussions.

Bayne: Reflecting upon the readings for this week, I tweeted about the idea of students as ghosts in a haunted classroom…  I was reading the Bayne article while proctoring an exam, and observing the students, and the line “the ontological blurring of being and not-being, presence and absence online…” inspired my tweet.  I saw the students attending a traditional class, but at the same time not being 100% present in that they were participating in other worlds through their BlackBerrys, or surreptitiously through the web while they thought I wasn’t looking.

How much presence constitutes attendance to the class?  Does the physical body just need to be in a seat, or is mental presence necessary as well?  Can any of us say that we are truly fully present in anything we do… especially when so many things are calling for our attention?

I would argue that a new vision of a university must harness the idea of ghostliness, and challenge students in new ways to retain their presence in the learning process.  The online/distance model forces students to engage more actively in the class in order to be credited for their work.  The work can be done at any time, anywhere, but it must be done.  The old traditional method gives them freedom to be distracted.  I wonder if it would be possible to successfully blend the two in my classroom, or would it cause chaos?

Kress: I found it hard to read the Kress article without thinking of the medium and message debate again.  Should we concentrate more on the medium (text, pictures) or the message that is being transmitted?  Is how we interpret the message impacted by the medium we choose to share it with?  Is the progression from text to pictures not more to do with our culture than the positives or ‘gains and losses’ of one form vs the other?  As Kress asks “Would the next generation of children actually be much more attuned to truth through the specificity of depiction rather than the vagueness of word?


“One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long, slow, steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present: like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake. I don’t know but it felt as if something that grew in the ground — asleep, you might say, or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky had suddenly waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care that it had given to its own inside affairs for endless years.”
—The description of Treebeard in The Two Towers Volume III – Treebeard[4] Wikipedia

But which description do you prefer, or is more beneficial to your understanding; the Tolkien words or the Peter Jackson image?  I argue that as Kress states… “words are empty entities to be filled with meaning.”  The image is Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s words, and his image shapes our understanding of the character.  Can we watch the film and imagine Treebeard as looking any different?  We are locked into the imagery, but in reading,  the character can be anything we want…

Thomas: In reading the Thomas article, and the “questions about the impact of computers on literacy (and upon the literary). Is the Internet really changing the ways in which we read, write, and think? Is the book truly dead?“  My first thought was of Amazon.com, and the millions of books they sell…  But then, their e-reader is extremely popular, so is the technology outnumbering the printed book in sales?  It does appear to be so, thus perhaps the printed book will soon be dead…. or perhaps it is that the printed material is just the medium, and the work itself is not dependent on it…  do we need therefore to redefine what the book itself is?

If we are moving into a transliterate world, and we have the technology to broadcast ourselves to the world, does this mean that true literacy will suffer?  Or is it a new frontier, with projects such as A Million Penguins leading the way?  Despite the tendency of our culture towards digital narcissism, surely there are still some quality pieces being created.

As the Thomas article quotes Microsoft National Technology Officer Jerry Fishenden: “The move to the digital era could be as democratizing as the birth of the printing press was in the fifteenth century. It will bring the ability to capture and share human experiences, learning and entertainment in far more intuitive ways than the age of literacy allowed.”  We have reached an age where anyone with a computer can be a published author, information is shared globally in an instant, and you too can be the star of your own world…



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3 Responses to Week 3 Summary

  1. Jeremy Keith Knox says:

    The Tolkien quote is absolutely fantastic here Kevin! Given your discussion of media, I couldn’t help but interpret the passage as a description, not of treebeard, but of the act of reading itself (text or image). When we read, is there not an ‘enormous well (of meanings) behind’ the words, ‘filled up with ages of memory, and long slow, steady thinking’?? This seemed to reflect aspects of hauntology suggested in Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies, where ghostly domains always exist beyond the text; intersecting spheres of interpretation and intent. Moreover, this history renders the surface ‘sparking with the present’ – Tolkien definitely read Derrida…somehow…

  2. Grace Elliott says:

    Hi Kevin,
    Very interesting read. I like your question, “Can any of us say that we are truly fully present in anything we do..” I know that there are certain situations where I have found myself daydreaming – so there in body but not in mind.

    You tweeted how everyone ‘reads’ the visual artefacts differently. And there have been many and varied interpretations, some of which weren’t actually intended by the creator. When books are turned into film I can get disappointed because the character portrayals aren’t anything like I imagined them to be. I’m comfortable with words but feel I have to be taught to read an image correctly.

    As for digital books, I can enjoy them and it sure makes holiday reading easier to pack but I’m a book person. I love books and always carry one with me, my favourite way of passing time when I have to wait around. I wouldn’t like to think of a world where they become obsolete.

  3. I like the question about the presence too and agree with a new uni having to reconsider its position and the need to become a haunted place. I also believe that the online can be perceived as a privileged mode but its success can be put down to its engagement with the ghostly, not the stick of assessment. The problem of many online courses might be the fact that the looming assessment is the only thing that motivates the learner to complete the tasks, something that wouldn’t feed into the ontological turn the university has to take. As to distractions, I get distracted online as easily, if not more easily, as in a trad classroom. It is the opportunity to engage with themes and questions that reach far into my professional practice and beyond it, into me being a learner, a woman and a human that appeals to me in the online mode and helps me persevere but maybe I’m being a geek.

    As to the Kress article, for me, it’s not the matter of prioritising the medium or the message as this would indicate power relationships. It’s more the two penetrating each other.
    Like Grace I am often disappointed when I see the film adaptation of the book because it does not echo my own imagining of the scenes and characters. But does that mean the visual locks me into the imagery? You can always think of it as an extension, another interpretive possibility. And how can you judge the adaptation if it is the text that is the point of departure (again, the text would be in charge of the interpretation). Interestingly enough, with our visual artefacts, the fact that people were interpreting them differently, often spotting things that the creator had not intended was generally felt as empowering, uncanny, enthralling, not as a source of disappointment. Is it because we were working in the opposite direction, with images being a starting point and words coming second. I find it quite interesting on tumblr and also youtube that you can respond using a visual. How would you give visual feedback on the artefacts displayed on our site?

    I like Jeremy’s reading of Tolkien’s quote as a metaphor of the reading process but I would like to emphasise that this might refer equally to image reading and text reading and the metaphor could be equally spurred on by the image or the description of the tree as images are also ‘filled up with ages of memory, and long slow, steady thinking’. Maybe even more than text as what came first after all?

    I think due to the years of text-based culture, we are somehow programmed to value the text as it is more tangible, fixed and stable – gives us a sense of comfort? I find it intriguing to read Grace’s comment that she feels more comfortable with words and she has to learn to read images. I’m similar but when you think of it: in the child development images come before words so you would consider them to be something natural. And in the humanity development, didn’t picture come before the written word? The first languages were making use of images, pictograms. Why is it then we feel uncomfortable reading them? It should feel more natural …

    What do you think?